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Chapter 14. Lifespan Nutrition During Childhood and Adolescence


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The onset of puberty is the beginning of adolescence and is the bridge between the childhood years and young adulthood. According to the DRI recommendations, adolescence is divided into two age groups: 9 through 13 years, and 14 through 18 years. Some of the important physiological changes that take place during this stage include the development of primary sex characteristics, or the reproductive organs, along with the onset of menstruation in females. This life stage is also characterized by the appearance of secondary sex characteristics, such as the growth of facial and body hair, the development of breasts in girls, and the deepening of the voice in boys. Other physical changes include rapid growth and alterations in body proportions.[1] All of these changes, as well as the accompanying mental and emotional adjustments, should be supported with sound nutrition.

The Onset of Puberty (Ages 9 through 13 years)

This period of physical development is divided into two phases. The first phase involves height increases from 20 to 25 percent. Puberty is second to the prenatal period in terms of rapid growth as the long bones stretch to their final, adult size. Girls grow 2–8 inches (5–20 centimeters) taller, while boys grow 4–12 inches (10–30 centimeters) taller. The second phase involves weight gain related to the development of bone, muscle, and fat tissue. Also in the midst of puberty, the sex hormones trigger the development of reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics, such as pubic hair. Girls also develop “curves,” while boys become broader and more muscular.[2]

Energy and Macronutrients

The energy requirements for preteens differ according to gender, growth, and activity level. For ages nine to thirteen, girls should consume about 1,400 to 2,200 calories per day and boys should consume 1,600 to 2,600 calories per day. Physically active preteens who regularly participate in sports or exercise need to eat a greater number of calories to account for increased energy expenditures.

For carbohydrates, the AMDR is 45 to 65 percent of daily calories (which is a recommended daily allowance of 158–228 grams for 1,400–1,600 daily calories). Carbohydrates that are high in fiber should make up the bulk of intake. The AMDR for protein is 10 to 30 percent of daily calories (35–105 grams for 1,400 daily calories for girls and 40–120 grams for 1,600 daily calories for boys). The AMDR for fat is 25 to 35 percent of daily calories (39–54 grams for 1,400 daily calories for girls and 44–62 grams for 1,600 daily calories for boys), depending on caloric intake and activity level.


Key vitamins needed during puberty include vitamins D, K, and B12. Adequate calcium intake is essential for building bone and preventing osteoporosis later in life. Young females need more iron at the onset of menstruation, while young males need additional iron for the development of lean body mass. Almost all of these needs should be met with dietary choices, not supplements (iron is an exception). Table 14.2 “Micronutrient Levels during Puberty” shows the micronutrient recommendations for young adolescents.

Table 14.2  Micronutrient Levels during Puberty

Nutrient Preteens, Ages 9–13
Vitamin A (mcg) 600.0
Vitamin B6 (mg) 1.0
Vitamin B12 (mcg) 1.8
Vitamin C (mg) 45.0
Vitamin D (mcg) 5.0
Vitamin E (mg) 11.0
Vitamin K (mcg) 60.0
Calcium (mg) 1,300.0
Folate (mcg) 300.0
Iron (mg) 8.0
Magnesium (mg) 240.0
Niacin (B3) (mg) 12.0
Phosphorus (mg) 1,250.0
Riboflavin (B2) (mcg) 900.0
Selenium (mcg) 40.0
Thiamine (B1) (mcg) 900.0
Zinc (mg) 8.0

Source: Institute of Medicine. 2006. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/11537. Accessed December 10, 2017.

  1. Polan EU, Taylor DR. Journey Across the LifeSpan: Human Development and Health Promotion. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Company; 2003, 170–71.
  2. McMillan B. Illustrated Atlas of the Human Body. Sydney, Australia: Weldon Owen; 2008, 258.